Monday, April 22, 2013
Children belong at Mass. Period.
I usually try to ignore posts and articles complaining about how people should be acting at Mass. Not because I think there's nothing to complain about, but more because I lean towards jumping on the complaint wagon and going all judgemental on people...so I try to stay away and not get all riled up irrationally.
But this post of Deacon Greg's has gotten under my skin. (Go read it, but be careful of rage!) When Deacon Greg first posted it last week and I read the letter in question I just dismissed the writer as being a tad uptight, probably on the older side, and not too accustomed to children. I figured the comments would all say that children are indeed welcome at Mass and maybe this letter writer should sit closer to the front of the Church. Then a few days letter Deacon Greg posted the follow up letter from the questioner and that's when I really lost my mind.
I think there are so many reasons that this stance of how children should not be brought to Mass until they're of the age of understanding and self-control is completely wrong, but I'll just throw a couple of my ten cents worth of opinion in.
First of all, I completely understand how crazy loud children can be in Mass. I'm usually sitting in a pew with five of them. We've always brought our kids to Mass, and we've always aimed to keep them relatively quiet within our pew. That's our goal. To say our pew is silent would be far from the truth but we've also only had to remove kids from the church (our church is tiny so we really have to go outside to put any sort of barrier between the church and screaming banshee) a handful of times. Our kids make some noise, they fight, they whisper terribly, and if they're babies they may cry for a minute or two before being soothed or put on a boob. We've gotten to this point of containment by always having kids napped and well fed before our 5 pm Saturday evening Mass. When we're busy and we don't have things carefully synchronized with naps and food it can be a whole hour of torture with badly behaving kids. My main point is, most parents of small babies/toddlers are in the process of training their children on how to behave at Mass and it usually requires a lot of behind the scenes preparation in order to be at peak good behaviour, and there could be any number of reasons why a kid could be having a full-flung tantrum or it could just be a bad day. Training requires that we actually show up at Mass on a regular basis with our children however. And I agree that this is a skill that parents have to teach. Respectful children at Mass don't suddenly appear on doorsteps at the age of five or seven, they grow up to that level of behaviour and parents have to teach it.
But the idea of children being kept away from the Mass, and all the graces which come from being close to Christ, until a certain age where they've attained some magical level of self control and understanding of the Mass is also completely counter to what the Church teaches. If the Church thought this way we'd have the Rite of Baptism finish with words like, "And may God bless you for the next five years until you're quiet enough to join the rest of the Church at regular Mass attendance." Our children are full members of the Body of Christ after receiving Baptism. They're part of the Church whether or not they understand the Catechism or not. So are the mentally disabled. So are the poorly catechized who probably don't understand the importance of the Mass either. So am I, who would easily get distracted while a teenager by the cute boy a couple pews down, and who still gets distracted by someone's weird hairdo or the jumbo-trons in mega parishes(shudder!). We all come up short in the proper reverence that is due in the Sacrifice of the Mass. But we also can't change the fact that the Mass is the Church's public form of worship. Public as in everyone is welcome and everyone is meant to come together and worship God together. Everyone. People who distract us, people we don't like, people who sin. We cannot put requirements on who may attend Mass because the Mass wasn't even created by us-it was instituted by Christ and He meant it for everyone. Luckily there are plenty of Catholic devotions and prayers that require silence. Eucharistic adoration is a great place to go to sit in silence and Christ's presence. The Liturgy of the Hours, the Rosary, lectio divine, can all be done silently and prayerfully in a quiet church or chapel. Go take advantage if you think children as Sunday Mass distract you from prayer-say some extra ones for the poor parents while you're at it!
Attending Mass as a family is a goal that I think all Catholic families aim for. Sure, sometimes its refreshing to go to Mass alone, free from controlling and patrolling toddlers, but I know I would feel empty and not whole somehow if I continually attended Mass alone. And I know that is kind of a touchy-feely argument but I think my children would feel the same way if we left the rest of their younger siblings at home, or daddy couldn't come to the same Mass because the babies had to stay home every week. Of course the logistics of one parent going to one Mass and the other attending another would take away from precious family time in an already very busy stage of life. While growing up, my dad had yet to convert to the Catholic Church and I remember from a young age always wanting my dad to come to church with us. When the whole family attends Mass together the children are shown that Mass, the Faith, and God are important.
Since all my kids are 5 and under, I know that children do absorb a lot from Mass even at these early stages. Different children pick up on different things from the Mass. My daughter notices the actions of the priest throughout and asks questions about it later. My 4 year old son already knows all the words to the Confitieor and the Gloria. This is where faith starts, at the child's level and it gradually grows with that child. It runs completely contrary to logic to think that the faith does not start to sink into a child's heart and mind until a certain age.
Really, the arguments for bringing children to Mass and attending Mass are many! I think that's why the letter in question made me go a bit batty. I think it all boils down to the fact that children are the Church's future, they're people, and full members of the Church who deserve not only Christ's love at Mass but the love and respect Christ calls us to give to everyone. We all also have to deal with things that distract us in Mass, be it others or ourselves, as well as we can and hopefully grow in holiness while doing so.